is our starting assumption: the belief and ideas that a person has
form a system. The parts of that system are related in various ways.
That system is dynamic in that it changes as new information is
added and in that all new information is modified by the system.
This, I believe, is an incredibly powerful idea. If this is true,
then it is possible for an individual to change the information
that they receive in order to protect and maintain their existing
belief system. Do you know anyone who is so rigidly stuck in a set
of beliefs that they cannot see anything outside of that framework?
C.S. Pierce calls this The Method of Tenacity. You can observe this
method at work in yourself as well as others.
If our beliefs form a dynamic system as described above, it is
also possible that an individual may purposely act to alter that
system. We can change our own minds - rewrite the scripts that lead
the roles we play in life - reprogram our mental software. These
metaphors may seem over the top, but it is hard to over estimate
the power that we may have if we were able to redesign our own belief
systems. If our belief systems control how we experience the world,
what we admit as possible, and what we dismiss as impossible, then
whatever controls the belief system is a mighty power. I am here
suggesting that we are capable of controlling our own belief systems
to some extent. I also maintain that few people ever consciously
set out to revise their own minds and stick to it. Our belief systems
are naturally self- preserving and have many sophisticated techniques
for defeating change.
Consider your own system of beliefs, ideas, feelings, and motivations.
As I am describing it, this expanded system is the primary factor
that make up your individual identity. What you believe, what you
feel, and how you act (or are inclined to act) defines who you are.
Do you need evidence of this? Well, how do you react when other
people try to change your beliefs? Many people react strongly to
such attempts. Some students, for instance, come into this course
- InterQuest - with a strong statement of resistance before any
has happened at all. They make it clear that nothing that happens
here can change their basic beliefs. I am always gratified that
these folks have the awareness that philosophy is an activity in
which basic beliefs are to be challenged and revised. So even though
they are set against change, it is positive that they recognize
it as possible. Some other students are not passionate about this
at all, and of course we recognize indifference and apathy (i.e.
withholding attention) as a very powerful self-defense mechanism
of the belief system. As a caveat for learners in InterQuest I have
to admit that a key purpose of this course is to enable individuals
to examine and revise their own belief systems - but I am entirely
sincere in my intention not to prescribe what any individual is
to think and believe. I am mainly concern with how we think (i.e.
the process of thought) - and in that regard I hope to have significant
Here is a simple model for how a belief system may be structured:
we recieve information about the world in various ways; that information
works to create our beliefs, but the information is also modifyed
by our existing beliefs; our beliefs give rise to feelings (which
involve evaluations of the information); how we feel determines
how we are inclined to act in response (which may be actions in
word, deed, or merely in the imagination). The picture at right
shows a way in which these elements of the belief system may be
Right now, begin an investigation into your own belief system.
Start with these questions:
beliefs do you have?
are those beliefs related to one another?
are your beliefs related to your feelings and actions?
if any, of your beliefs are most important and basic (i.e. such
that the other beliefs depend on them)?
far back can you trace your basic beliefs? To childhood?
did you get your beliefs? Did you create them? Did you inherit
you experienced major changes in your belief system? What was
that experience like?
you draw a diagram of a particular cluster of information, ideas,
feelings, and actions? If so, I'd like to see it.